United States expels 15 Cuban diplomats

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The U.S. announced Tuesday that it had given the Cuban government a list of 15 names of people who had to leave Washington within one week, the latest move in the fallout of the odd attacks and one which was criticized by the Cuban government. The state department said the USA was cooperating with that investigation while conducting its own.

The US State Department was expected to announce the decision as soon as Tuesday, said US media citing the anonymous officials who were familiar with the plan.

Both the USA and Cuba will see their diplomatic staffing in their embassies drop to the lowest levels in years.

A State Department official said the number of expulsions was selected to make sure the USA and Cuban embassies would have "equitable staffing levels" while investigations continued into the unexplained "health attacks".

But he said his decision to withdraw 60 percent of USA diplomats from the embassy in Havana will remain in effect until Cuba can ensure that American diplomats there are safe.

A USA investigation into the matter is still ongoing. They are believed to have been "targeted" either in their residences within compounds owned by the Cuban government, or in hotels. They recurred as recently as late August. That person was the victim of an attack in January.

One possibility being explored is whether the diplomats were made ill by a "sonic attack", though the State Department has refrained from using that term.

While the U.S. did not directly blame Cuba for the attacks, a State Department official said Cuban officials needed to provide greater assurances that diplomats will no longer be attacked before both countries could resume regular diplomatic operations.

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Now what had been hoped was a historic opening is backsliding to an era of mutual suspicion and recrimination.

Canada and the United States have responded in drastically different ways to freakish attacks on diplomatic personnel in Havana, with the Americans pursuing a hardline approach that escalated Tuesday. It also suspended issuing visas to Cubans, a step that makes it hard for Cuban Americans to reunite with relatives.

USA secretary of state Rex Tillerson had earlier said that kicking out 15 Cuban diplomats would "ensure equity".

Tillerson said the U.S. would "maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and will continue to cooperate with Cuba as we pursue the investigation into these attacks".

But he said the move to reduce staffing at the Havana embassy was needed to "minimise the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm".

That designation would prevent them from ever returning. He could not, however, explain how the Cubans could offer those assurances if it has not been determined how the injuries were caused or when it may be deemed safe for diplomats to return.

"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe USA citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba", the United States said in a formal travel warning.

In a message on Facebook, the embassy's top official, career diplomat Scott Hamilton, said he would also be leaving. "It is not for us to outline a set of criteria to ensure that environment".

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